Warning: How family fun in sea quickly becomes drowning situation
- Credit: Archant
As a waterman, beach lifeguard and outdoor education teacher, living and working in Torbay is a dream come true!
But this island nation is in a water safety crisis, resulting in even more rescues and drownings.
On a very barmy September evening in late 1990s, I rescued my first Torbay swimmers. Two girls of about 10 or 11 on an inflatable crocodile. It had blown off shore and then 'popped' leaving the girls clinging onto only the head, which still had air.
I was on the Torquay Boys' Grammar school rescue boat for the school sailing club.
Both the girls were cold, scared but no hospital visit required - unlike the girls' father, who had tried to swim after them.
He was very quickly out paced by the speed an inflatable can travel when in an off-shore wind.
The father was in a desperate state when I pulled him out of the water, with only seconds of energy left in his exhausted body. This is the catastrophe that is drowning.
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One minute it's the most fun a family can have, the next is a helpless situation where the forces of nature are in total control.
I spent the next 10 years regularly performing rescues or assists, mainly to our visiting holidaymakers but also a growing number of locals on kayaks, swimming and inflatables.
In 2011, with the help of friends and the local community, I set up Torbay Surf Life Saving Club to water safety educate and get both locals and visitors safely in the water, supported by Torbay Council and Sports England with premises to create a working clubhouse.
We have had more than 25,000 children and adults through the club doors at Goodrington North beach since opening.
As chairman of Torbay SLSC, I am always humbled by the many hours so many volunteers give to the club, helping to educate the children of Torbay, build water confidence, loving the sea and ultimately training to become a beach lifeguard.
It has always shocked and horrified me as an educationist and lifeguard, just how little the general population know about water safety and drowning prevention - especially those that can live less than a mile from the coast.
These views have been confirmed from the events of the last few weeks.
After a tragic, failed rescue attempt in 2014, where three souls drowned at Mawgan Porth in Cornwall, I felt I needed to do more to help educate, mainly the children, in water safety so I set up the charity Above Water.
Above Water visits schools teaching water safety, promotes drowning prevention and is a voice to put a stop to accidental drowning in the UK through education.
Although swimming and water safety is in the national curriculum, it is not being taught in many schools because teachers are not trained to teach the topic.
Above Water wants every child to receive annual water safety and drowning prevention teaching, ensuring they can swim at least 25m when they leave Year 6, can self-rescue, even know what to do if they see someone else in trouble.
The only way to teach all 8.9 million children in England is to train teachers to teach comprehensive water safety and drowning prevention.
Holidaying at home and visiting the beach is becoming more popular and, this year, is our only option.
Stand-up paddle boarding and open water swimming are two of the fastest growing sports in the UK.
All this is great for fitness and wellbeing but I am concerned for a huge rise in rescues and drownings.
I swim, surf or SUP daily and am alarmed by the water safety concerns I witness.
On my SUP paddle this morning I saw someone pumping up a new inflatable board. As it was a new board, I asked if he was new to paddle boarding. He smiled and then carried on.
I always carry a tow line and 20 minutes later, I towed the man back to shore as he was heading uncontrollably to Portland.
The inflatables may have changed in the last 25 years but the lack of knowledge is very much the same.
Accidental drowning is a very real risk regardless of the few who think there are a lack of waves.
For Torbay, the English Rivera resort, we need to prioritise safety on our most-valuable asset, our beaches.
• Visit www.abovewater.org for information. The charity is currently running an online Crowdfunding campaign to train 200 teachers at www.avivacommunityfund.co.uk/above-water